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BELMONT STAKES ANALYSIS

With few contenders, Curlin looks too tough

June 09, 2007|Bob Mieszerski | Times Staff Writer

Only seven 3-year-olds will contest the Belmont Stakes when the final leg of the Triple Crown is run for the 139th time today at Belmont Park.

Of that number, four are simply taking up space. Imawildandcrazyguy, Slew's Tizzy, C P West and Tiago will not win. They are vying for the minor awards. Fourth is worth $60,000, and the prize for finishing fifth is $30,000.

The longest of the three Triple Crown races boils down to Preakness winner Curlin, the consistent Hard Spun and the most intriguing participant, the filly Rags To Riches.

When jockey Garrett Gomez committed to Hard Spun a couple of weeks ago, replacing Mario Pino, it seemed a certainty that Rags To Riches, the top 3-year-old female in the country, wouldn't be running in the Belmont.

However, that changed earlier in the week when trainer Todd Pletcher announced she would try to make some history and become only the 22nd filly to run in the storied, 1 1/2 -mile event.

A winner of all four of her races in 2007, Rags To Riches, who is owned by Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, certainly has the pedigree to stay the distance. A.P. Indy, her sire, won the race in 1992, and her half brother, Jazil, won it a year ago.

Dominant against her sex, Rags To Riches deserves the chance to take on the boys, and why not? Running males in the Triple Crown races has yet to work for Pletcher. He is a combined 0 for 28 in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont, including 0 for 7 this spring.

The runner-up in the Derby, Hard Spun was victimized by a poor ride by Pino three weeks ago at Pimlico. He made a premature move to gain the lead from overmatched longshots Xchanger and Flying First Class, drew clear, then proved no match late for Curlin and Street Sense.

In a race where the pace figures to be much more realistic, Hard Spun has a chance to lead throughout or he could sit second if somebody else insists on having the front. Gomez will give the Pennsylvania-bred his best chance. Now, it's a question of whether Hard Spun is good enough to beat Curlin and the filly.

Victimized by less than ideal circumstances when a distant third in the Kentucky Derby, Curlin demonstrated how talented a colt he is in the Preakness. Seemingly beaten when Street Sense rolled past him about a quarter of a mile from the finish, Curlin rallied strongly to catch the Derby hero and win by a head.

Any talk about how Street Sense moved too soon or that his jockey (Calvin Borel) lost the race because he took a peek behind him is nonsense. The best horse won. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if Curlin were never to lose again to Street Sense, who has been vulnerable away from Churchill Downs.

In the Belmont, Curlin can be positioned wherever jockey Robby Albarado wants him. He can lay close if the pace is slow or he can sit back if the splits are a little too quick.

However the race plays out, he should get the job done, making him the sixth horse since 2001 to win two legs of the Triple Crown. Curlin would join Point Given, War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex in that club and the feeling is the best is yet to come from the striking chestnut.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Belmont Stakes

* What: 139th Belmont Stakes.

* Where: Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y.

* When: Today at 3:25 p.m. PDT. TV: Channel 7.

* Field: Seven 3-year-olds. Distance: 1 1/2 miles.

* Favorite: Curlin, 6-5. Total purse: $1 million. Winner: $600,000.

* Weather forecast: Partly cloudy with a temperature in the low 80s.

* 2006 winner: Jazil.

*--* PP HORSE JOCKEY TRAINER ODDS 1. Imawildandcrazyguy Mark Guidry Bill Kaplan 20-1 2. Tiago Mike Smith John Shirreffs 10-1 3. Curlin Robby Albarado Steve Asmussen 6-5 4. CP West Edgar Prado Nick Zito 12-1 5. Slew's Tizzy Rafael Bejarano Greg Fox 20-1 6. Hard Spun Garrett Gomez Larry Jones 5-2 7. Rags To Riches John Velazquez Todd Pletcher 3-1

*--*

Source: Associated Press

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